Did you grow up in a big family where no one ever noticed you? If you are over fifty, you may have grown up tuning into the “The Brady Bunch,” “Eight is Enough,” and “Party of Five.” And like me, all of your values emerged from watching basketballs crashing vases, the kidnapping of Kitty Carryall and Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
The siblings of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are no different in terms of competing for front and center attention. Thirteen diverse grapes (red and white) share the stage with this Southern Rhone wine and the percentage of each represented varies immensely across the region and in other countries replicating the style. Not all thirteen varietals are required to be in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, though the reds comprise about 95% of the blend. Whites such as Viognier, Picardan, and Grenache Blanc are blended to soften the bigger more tannic reds and contribute the remaining 5-6%. From elegant, sassy and racy to bold, earthy and spicy, each member adds their own unique personality to the wine.
Mouvedre, Syrah and Grenache dominate the family dynamics but one lesser known grape has captured my heart and that is Counoise (pronouced koo-nwahz). There is no leading role for this grape as it ripens late and produces low yields. Winemakers tend to add anywhere from .5-5% to their blend, a far cry from the 50% or more of other starring roles like Grenache.
Counoise shines for its high acidity, but lacks tannin, color and alcohol. Not only grown in the Southern Rhone, producers in the U.S. are taking a page from Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s script and growing it in Central California, Mendocino, Santa Barbara and Washington state. Few winemakers take the time to bottle this varietal alone, but I think the winemakers at Tablas Creek singled out the Lone Rhone Ranger for good reason. A light to mid weight wine, Counoise drinks best slightly chilled and could very well be your replacement for Beaujolais at Thanksgiving. Winemakers are also making crisp, dry Rosé out of Counoise, your ideal unicorn for picnics and BBQ’s. Flavors of the eastern Mediterranean dust your palate with pomegranate, sumac, rose and incense notes. The acidity lends itself to a freshness and bright feel complemented by fresh raspberries and white pepper, making it a perfect match for shrimp scampi, fowl, sausage and lamb. And at an affordable price!
Current Producers Include:
Tablas Creek Vineyards Counoise, Paso Robles 2015 $29.99
Broc Cellars Eaglepoint Ranch Counoise, Mendocino County 2017 $29.99
Swick Wines ‘Ellaguru’, Columbia Gorge, Washington 2018 $22.99
Epiphany Cellars, Counoise, Santa Barbara 2016 $31.00